Sign up for The Seattle Times' Outside Guide, and you'll receive a weekly newsletter with practical tips, trip ideas and more.

Share story

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from our new outdoors newsletter, Outside Guide. Every Wednesday, we’re delivering tips, links and inspiration to readers’ inboxes. Sign up here

So you’ve decided to give this whole hiking/camping/backpacking thing a try. Hooray! Your next question, after “Am I sure this is actually a good idea?,” is probably “What do I bring?”

The simplest answer to that question: Start small. You’ll likely end up using less specialized gear than you think, and there’s no need to turn your living room into a pile of spandex and nylon.

If you’re going on a day hike in the middle of summer, your packing list might be as simple as a backpack, sturdy footwear, sunscreen, water, snacks, a basic first-aid kit, map and compass, and a warm, weatherproof jacket. Most backpackers, in addition to the above, need at least a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, headlamp, stove and some form of water filtration to stay safe and comfortable. The 10 Essentials is a list of systems that should serve as the foundation of your gear list.

Even buying just the basics can add up to a big expense. Resources like climbing and hiking forums, Facebook groups and secondhand stores are a great way to cut costs and figure out what type of equipment best fits your needs before purchasing new, expensive items. Many outfitters in the Seattle area and foothill towns also offer rental items like tents, sleeping bags, stoves and backpacks.

Don’t overlook the usefulness of everyday, cheap (or free) stuff — who needs a titanium spork when you can grab some plastic cutlery from a local fast-food joint?

Already have what you need? Share your expertise: What’s the one piece of gear you find most valuable? Or maybe there’s something you bought but never ended up using. Tell us your tips and tricks in the comments.